- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Health care premium increases for federal workers next year will the be the smallest in years, averaging 2.2 percent, and the insurance program for which most of them opt is actually cutting premiums slightly for its most popular plan.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, which covers 78 percent of enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, is trimming premiums for its most popular plan and holding the line for its other options.

Also this year, for the first time, the federal health care program will offer optional dental and vision coverage. Optional means you can pick it or not, and you will pay the entire premium.

Congress ordered the Office of Personnel Management to hold health care premium increases to a minimum. It has done so, in part, by drawing from the reserves of the more than dozen plans ranging from fee for service with nationwide coverage to limited health maintenance organizations.

The federal health insurance program has several features that put it head and shoulders above private-sector plans. It offers workers and retirees — and in some cases ex-spouses and grandchildren — coverage without strings. They can change plans each year during the open season in November and December, and they cannot be turned down because of age, health or pre-existing medical conditions.

Also, the insurance is for life, whereas many private-sector health care plans cease coverage when the person turns 65 or retires. Finally, members of Congress — who set up the federal health program — and their staffs are covered by it, paying the same premiums in the same plans.

The bottom line is that it is hard to find a better health care program in the United States today, or one that is as durable.

During the open season Nov. 13 to Dec. 11, we’ll have a series of “best buy” columns to help workers, couples, families with children, people with special needs, retirees and those with and without Medicare coverage find the most cost-effective plan.

Back-pay settlement

Roughly 150,000 former federal workers — including people who retired, quit or died — are due millions of dollars from a recent court settlement.

The payments, which could range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, involve feds who retired in the December-to-January period and who didn’t get full payment for lump-sum annual leave they had accumulated.

Annual leave payments are supposed to reflect the pay rate in effect when the employee-retiree would have taken annual leave, even if a pay raise went into effect after they retired.

Most federal pay raises take effect with the first pay period beginning on or after Jan. 1. So, if a fed retired in late December or early January, most of the lump-sum annual leave would be paid at the new higher rate.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims’ ruling in Archuleta et al v. United States covers those who left federal service with lump-sum annual leave balances between April 7, 1993, and Sept. 7, 1999. It can be found at www.mylumpsumpayment.com.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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